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Help! OTTB frantic in pasture, needs confidence

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  • Help! OTTB frantic in pasture, needs confidence

    Background: I brought home my OTTB (Then 3 YO, now 4) gelding from the track about 1 year 3 months ago. He came from a track with zero turnout, as many do. He came to a low key boarding barn for let down and to slowly restart his career. He was happy, quiet, and completely loving his new life in the stall/barn/arena. We started with small turnout sessions in a dry lot, and the plan was to slowly acclimate him to pasture. Over a period of months, he would never last more than 30 min - 1 hour before running the fence, wanting to come in. He was never dangerous, but was clearly upset. I worked through many attempts to help him adjust, involving different paddocks (with and without grass, round pens, and horse buddies) and even moved barns to give him the best environment.

    He was slowly improving to some settled time out with a small heard (1-2 hours, 2-3 horses), when another horse went after him, and wrecked all that was left of his very fragile confidence. He scratched up his legs on the fence trying to get away, and went to stall rest and ice/cold hosing until healed. Once okayed for turnout again, he was frantic almost immediately after removing his halter, and becomes a bit of a danger to himself. The boarding facility's staff became a bit afraid, and it became difficult to get him out regularly. After months of little success, I started taking him out myself before work and just hanging with him, helping him to redevelop confidence. I found him a pony to be his buddy that was very non threatening (practically ignores him). Things have started to get better, but he can be very hit or miss on his confidence outside. The barn staff still has some concerns with taking him out, but I can't be there every day to do it myself.

    My question is, has anyone had a similar problem with adjusting an OTTB? If so, how did you help build confidence? Many have suggested just leaving him to work it out, but I have these concerns 1) He will injure himself and 2) He is a thin OTTB and would drop weight like crazy if we just let him run. Note: He has been treated for ulcers and is on daily preventative supplement. He gets hand grazed in this area regularly and is calm. He is calm under saddle, but can have a baby spooky moment once in a while.

  • #2
    Sometimes a little chemical assistance may help. Give a bit of ace, give it time to kick in, turn out for a few hours with pony friend. Bring in before he gets agitated. Do this for a few days and start reducing the amount of ACE until he doesn't need any. Never bring pony in and leave him out there alone. Hopefully this will be enough to break the cycle and let him figure out that turn-out is okay. Make sure he has good grass or hay in turn-out so that is an added incentive to being outside. If there are flies- use lots of protection such as spray, mask, leg protection, fly sheet. You want to make this as pleasant as possible.

    Depo may help.

    A friend had a horse that was very anxious. He would pace the fenceline all day. Wore a deep track along the fence. They put him on flupenazine for a couple of months to just break the cycle. Switched him to a low key QH buddy. He was fine after that.

    Talk to your vet about what RX options are best for your situation. Obviously if you are showing these suggestions won't work.
    Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)

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    • Original Poster

      #3
      Originally posted by SonnysMom View Post
      Sometimes a little chemical assistance may help. Give a bit of ace, give it time to kick in, turn out for a few hours with pony friend. Bring in before he gets agitated. Do this for a few days and start reducing the amount of ACE until he doesn't need any. Never bring pony in and leave him out there alone. Hopefully this will be enough to break the cycle and let him figure out that turn-out is okay. Make sure he has good grass or hay in turn-out so that is an added incentive to being outside. If there are flies- use lots of protection such as spray, mask, leg protection, fly sheet. You want to make this as pleasant as possible.

      Depo may help.

      A friend had a horse that was very anxious. He would pace the fenceline all day. Wore a deep track along the fence. They put him on flupenazine for a couple of months to just break the cycle. Switched him to a low key QH buddy. He was fine after that.

      Talk to your vet about what RX options are best for your situation. Obviously if you are showing these suggestions won't work.
      Thank you!!! When I asked my vet for his suggestion, he advised Reserpine. We tried it for a couple months, with little to no difference in the behavior. I had used ace a couple times at the beginning, but may be worth trying again with new calm environment. I'll check out your other RX suggestions and see if they may be an option. I'm not showing at the moment so RX are an option, just hopefully nothing long term. Thanks again!

      Comment


      • #4
        No advice. One of mine is the same way. I think he just hates bugs so if it's sunset or sunrise, he gets upset.

        Comment


        • #5
          Is there a way you can give him access to a barn or shelter and pasture at the same time? That way he could let himself in and out. My half Arab used to run the fence line if out, and weave if he was in the barn. But after we attached a paddock from the barn connected to a pasture he can take himself in and out at will and is much happier

          Comment

          • Original Poster

            #6
            Originally posted by MayaS View Post
            Is there a way you can give him access to a barn or shelter and pasture at the same time? That way he could let himself in and out. My half Arab used to run the fence line if out, and weave if he was in the barn. But after we attached a paddock from the barn connected to a pasture he can take himself in and out at will and is much happier
            That would be awesome, but no I don't have that luxury at the boarding facility I am at. I have tried giving him a stall with an attached dry lot before. He was content in that dry lot, but it seemed to become an extension of his safe zone in the stall. When moved to pasture, same behavior.

            Comment


            • #7
              How big is the turn out? I used to work a hunt farm that had a horse like this, he could only be turned out alone, in a small paddock. Anything else set him wild, and he would run non stop, for hours. He was quite happy alone in his small paddock.
              Boss Mare Eventing Blog

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                Originally posted by Jealoushe View Post
                How big is the turn out? I used to work a hunt farm that had a horse like this, he could only be turned out alone, in a small paddock. Anything else set him wild, and he would run non stop, for hours. He was quite happy alone in his small paddock.
                Interesting! I've tried as small as a round pen, which he still only lasted the standard 20-30 min. But I've thought about a larger paddock, i'm just scared to large may just give him more room to really get running, and then increase the potential for injury. Right now I would say we use a medium sized, enough for 2-3 horses at a time.

                Comment


                • #9
                  He isn't running from bugs by chance?
                  Boss Mare Eventing Blog

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    From your description, it sounds like he's content so long as he has access to the stall/barn. Once you physically take him away from the barn and put him in an enclosure that does not give him that access, he gets upset.

                    Given he's come from having grown up at the track, I am thinking this has nothing to do with the size of the enclosure, how many horses there are with him, but more the fact that his whole life has centered around safety being in a stall/barn. When he has access to a run where he can still seek the stall if he chooses, it's fine. But taking him out of that stall/away from the barn and in his mind, he literally might die.

                    It's a similar scenario to a horse that is barn sour. We all know one - rider would like to go on a trail ride or a road hack, hops on their horse, gets only so far away down the road before the horse gets balky, starts backing up, won't go forward, scoots sideways, threatens to rear, bucks, or just gets really ramped up, is miserable the rest of the ride and wants to jig once you turn for home.

                    For those horses, the rider has not successfully managed to keep the horse mentally and physically in the same place - they took his body along for a trail ride, but as far as the horse is concerned he's still thinking about/existing at the barn or his pasture. The farther you take him away from it, the more upset he gets. This is what is happening to your horse, but in this case you aren't riding him away. The fact that you've had some success taking him out, hanging out with him, etc, tells me you're on the right path and that this is indeed a case of "body in one place, mind in another".

                    Humans sometimes struggle to understand this concept because we have the power of rationalization. Horses don't. I often use the following scenario to help put people in their horse's shoes: it's 4:30PM on a Friday afternoon and you're at work. Everyone else is heading out the door for the weekend and you're stuck in the office until 5PM. You've got a pile of work on your desk still but all you can think about is getting the heck out of dodge and heading home. How are you likely feeling internally? Anxious? Frustrated? Stuck? Watching the clock? Probably a combination of all of the above. That is exactly how your horse feels, except he can't rationalize the situation AND he's a prey animal, so in his mind his survival literally depends on keeping his mind and body together at all times. Separate them and he literally thinks he is going to die.

                    I think this is how your horse feels when he gets turned out away from the barn. His whole world thus far in his life has been centered around safety and peace being in a stall.

                    If I were you, there would be a couple of things I'd be doing. I would NOT turn him out and just "let him work through it". He will likely hurt himself and/or damage property if he gets desperate enough to try and bust through a fence. I WOULD keep him where he feels comfortable and safe - for now - while you continue to develop his confidence under saddle. I would also be focusing quite a bit of time on exposure work: I don't desensitize my horses. I expose them to things and educate them about said things. Exposure and education leads to confidence, which is sounds like this horse really needs. I would also start to ride him out away from the barn - indeed, with OTTBs especially, but any new horse I take for training, that's all we do for a while. The more I can get them out away from the farm and exposed to the world, the quicker they learn to be okay wherever they are. If you don't feel confident doing that on his back, just take him out in hand. After some time, you can try slowly adding back herd/pasture time. It can take quite a while for some horses to feel safe everywhere, but it's one of the most important lessons you can teach them and will become important should you ever want to show or venture off property.
                    Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not. Remember that what you have now was once among the many things that you only hoped for.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      IME, some horses have time limits and never learn to like the outdoors. A few hours is all they need. But Abbie has great advice. I would combine exposure therapy with some chemical assistance. I've had better luck with Ace than Reserpine. I think reserpine can exacerbate ulcers so if there's any stomach issues going on, I would avoid it. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with a little ace if it keeps you and the horse safe. The more positive experiences he has doing new things away from the barn, the better. Ace can be given in the vein, muscle, or orally by tablet.

                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Originally posted by Jealoushe View Post
                        He isn't running from bugs by chance?
                        I don't think so. He does this even in the coldest of winter when there are no bugs. I'm in Illinois, so we definitely have bugs, but nothing like FL or anything. He goes out with fly spray and a mask. I've gone back and forth with some leg protection, but not so much for flys. More so as a precautionary in case he rubs them on the fence in a panic moment. I will say bugs can make it worse. Really any little distraction or upsetting situation does. So for example if a horse fly lands on him and he runs/bucks to get it off, he may decide that's enough of that, bring me in! I definitely think limiting the bugs is beneficial for that reason.

                        Comment

                        • Original Poster

                          #13
                          Originally posted by Abbie.S View Post
                          From your description, it sounds like he's content so long as he has access to the stall/barn. Once you physically take him away from the barn and put him in an enclosure that does not give him that access, he gets upset.

                          Given he's come from having grown up at the track, I am thinking this has nothing to do with the size of the enclosure, how many horses there are with him, but more the fact that his whole life has centered around safety being in a stall/barn. When he has access to a run where he can still seek the stall if he chooses, it's fine. But taking him out of that stall/away from the barn and in his mind, he literally might die.

                          It's a similar scenario to a horse that is barn sour. We all know one - rider would like to go on a trail ride or a road hack, hops on their horse, gets only so far away down the road before the horse gets balky, starts backing up, won't go forward, scoots sideways, threatens to rear, bucks, or just gets really ramped up, is miserable the rest of the ride and wants to jig once you turn for home.

                          For those horses, the rider has not successfully managed to keep the horse mentally and physically in the same place - they took his body along for a trail ride, but as far as the horse is concerned he's still thinking about/existing at the barn or his pasture. The farther you take him away from it, the more upset he gets. This is what is happening to your horse, but in this case you aren't riding him away. The fact that you've had some success taking him out, hanging out with him, etc, tells me you're on the right path and that this is indeed a case of "body in one place, mind in another".

                          Humans sometimes struggle to understand this concept because we have the power of rationalization. Horses don't. I often use the following scenario to help put people in their horse's shoes: it's 4:30PM on a Friday afternoon and you're at work. Everyone else is heading out the door for the weekend and you're stuck in the office until 5PM. You've got a pile of work on your desk still but all you can think about is getting the heck out of dodge and heading home. How are you likely feeling internally? Anxious? Frustrated? Stuck? Watching the clock? Probably a combination of all of the above. That is exactly how your horse feels, except he can't rationalize the situation AND he's a prey animal, so in his mind his survival literally depends on keeping his mind and body together at all times. Separate them and he literally thinks he is going to die.

                          I think this is how your horse feels when he gets turned out away from the barn. His whole world thus far in his life has been centered around safety and peace being in a stall.

                          If I were you, there would be a couple of things I'd be doing. I would NOT turn him out and just "let him work through it". He will likely hurt himself and/or damage property if he gets desperate enough to try and bust through a fence. I WOULD keep him where he feels comfortable and safe - for now - while you continue to develop his confidence under saddle. I would also be focusing quite a bit of time on exposure work: I don't desensitize my horses. I expose them to things and educate them about said things. Exposure and education leads to confidence, which is sounds like this horse really needs. I would also start to ride him out away from the barn - indeed, with OTTBs especially, but any new horse I take for training, that's all we do for a while. The more I can get them out away from the farm and exposed to the world, the quicker they learn to be okay wherever they are. If you don't feel confident doing that on his back, just take him out in hand. After some time, you can try slowly adding back herd/pasture time. It can take quite a while for some horses to feel safe everywhere, but it's one of the most important lessons you can teach them and will become important should you ever want to show or venture off property.
                          I really love how you explained this and understood our situation. I think its all about developing the confidence and education in new/distant locations. I think I need to incorporate this more into our training routine. When I reflect honestly, I have become too comfortable in our safe zone as well, mainly the indoor arena. I know there I will have a good positive ride, versus the potential for nerves or fear affecting us outside. (I have ridden in the outdoor before, but just not as productively as inside)

                          I will probably just start with ground exercises in the outdoor and different paddocks, and then up that to under saddle in those areas as well. I can use some educational pieces to keep the exposure new and allow him opportunities to learn and build confidence. I will admit I'm a little nervous going out on trails and new facilities just yet, but I can have a trainer help with that portion at first as well.

                          Thank you so much for your response! It was incredibly helpful!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            How was he treated for ulcers? Duration?

                            I will add, smaller paddock, closer to the barn helps many OTTBs. And some just NEVER get to the point where they can be turned out for more than an hour or so, or they self harm. You may wish to prepare for that eventuality.

                            Comment

                            • Original Poster

                              #15
                              Originally posted by Sansena View Post
                              How was he treated for ulcers? Duration?

                              I will add, smaller paddock, closer to the barn helps many OTTBs. And some just NEVER get to the point where they can be turned out for more than an hour or so, or they self harm. You may wish to prepare for that eventuality.
                              Omeprazole for 30 days at full dose, then weaned off each week for another month. He is now maintained daily on a gastro supplement to help as well. He is also on high forage to help with the ulcers as well.

                              I know he may never be an all day/all night type of pasture horse. I would be happy with just a couple hours a day.


                              I will add I babysat him out there this weekend and he lasted 2-3 hours each day with me in the general area. I'm hoping consistency doing this will also help him build confidence out there and learn the pasture is a good, safe place.

                              Comment

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